Friday, August 5, 2011
Some days the writer eats the bear; some days the bear eats the writer
The writer's group was small, and we didn't seem to have a leader. I agreed to attend because I thought I knew one of the participants. She and I had been in a class together at UCLA, and since then she's had quite a bit of success. A nice contact, I thought. And I liked her writing. The meeting place was a house in a clearing near the woods. A bit ramshackle. White peeling paint outside and dull white inside, everything yellowing around the edges. The kitchen held a large 1950s-style table, metal-edged and sunk like a battleship into the sagging middle of the room. This is where we would workshop, bond, comb through one another's words with care and cunning.
The caretaker of the property came by to say a few words. Easy on the plumbing, ladies. He was holding something. A rake, a rifle, or a shovel--upright, Pa Kettle style. Oh, and mind the bears. Don't leave the door open. One of us was a country girl--not tamed and citified like me, and we looked at her when the caretaker mentioned the bears. She shrugged, but seemed a little nervous. The place was a cracker-box. Tilting and warped. None of the doors closed properly. The furniture like dollhouse furniture that had been played with by generations of little girls. Legs worn down, finials of headboards snapped off. Wobbly chairs, blinded mirrors. Rusty rings in the bathtubs made me think of the ancient trees in the woods and how their innards would look if someone sawed them down. Here we were, writers in the midst of all this ruin trying to make something out of the ruination in our heads.
But--dinner! Out to the steakhouse down the road. Everyone getting ready. Showers and blow dryers, and all I can think of is icy water, blown fuses and a house full of dark. But the hot water holds out. Almost ready. A young woman named Lisa is being a pain in the ass. Too much mascara and running from mirror to mirror with the cord to her hair dryer trailing her like a tail. She is in everyone's way. Passing her in the doorway of the room where I'll sleep, I see the bed is lumpy and wonder what the hell she did to mess up my bed. But the lump is a bear. Two bears--mother and baby under the quilt. Bear, I announce to the group. Bear in my room. In my bed. It's like a reverse Goldilocks story, and somehow I must be the one to take charge because the bears are in my bed. I close the door and retreat to the kitchen as everyone gathers.
And here comes Lisa. Deaf to the bear talk, but with her hair just-so, she's come through my bedroom from an adjoining room and now has flung the hallway door open just as the baby bear stirs. A baby bear she says, stepping back into the bedroom to pick him up. All eyes but hers are now fixed on the mother bear; a narrow hallway and a door barely tethered to its hinges are all that is between the mother and the group of us cowered in the kitchen. Shut the goddamned door, Lisa. As if it will hold against the bear. But Lisa is cuddling the baby. Nestled against her, it looks half changeling, half human. Shut the door. But no one is listening. Everyone is looking at me as if I am in charge, but not one person will do what I say.
Thanks to my friend Julie for providing the opportunity to snap this picture. I don't know whom to thank for dreaming about bears.